Wednesday, 31 July 2013

1950's Petticoat - A How To

I don't feel I can really call this a tutorial. To do so would be fraudulent. The tutorial was written by someone else, and I'm just telling you what I did differently!

Apologies for the lack of photos, but due to time constraints when making this, and a certain lack of belief that it would come good, I didn't take any.

First, as Cilla used to say, here's a quick reminder:

The first version I made was a 3m length, double layer of tulle, gathered and attached to the above photographed underskirt at hip level. The reason I didn't like this was because it gave me too much bulk at hip level and more of a straight out and down (square) shape, rather than the desired (and more subtle) shallow inverted triangle shape given in the photo above on the right.

I Googled images of 1950's petticoats and established that they were pretty much all tiered, giving that triangular shape, so I went back to the Sugardale tutorial that I'd originally found. I didn't make her version exactly, but I based mine loosely round hers. I would say her tutorial is actually excellent, but I didn't need (and didn't have the time or the supplies for) the quality of finish she describes. She recommends you read her tutorial in it's entirety before starting. I had to do this a few times to get my head round it, but then I'm not always great with written instructions for practical things.

The first thing I did differently, was to create an underskirt. Tulle is really scratchy against the legs and I wanted this to be comfy. I made the underskirt from some unbleached cotton I had in my stash (£1.75 per metre from Ikea - excellent muslin material). I used the width of my fabric, which was about 150cm. I measured my dress from waist to hem and then cut the same - I obviously wanted the underskirt to be shorter than the dress, however I knew seam allowance and the casing for the elasticated waist would take care of that. So the underskirt is basically a wide tube, with a narrow casing sewn at the top for the elastic (1/4 inch, I think). I didn't finish the edges,  I included the selvedge instead. This is fancy dress, remember! The underskirt sits on  my natural waist. Actually, if you were making this following my instructions (really? you are?), I'd leave the elastic off at this stage and add it at the stage marked below. It will just make things easier.

I then followed Sugardale's tutorial. Not sure of the best way to present my instructions with Sugardale's tutorial, so I'll just tell you what I did differently, referring you to the correct point in her tutorial. Make sense?

STEP 1 Things you will need
1. I used tulle rather than crinoline. Guys, I recommend this. Tulle doesn't fray, which makes life so much easier. Therefore, no Fray check required.
2. I substituted yards for metres (they're not that different). I got confused when cutting my tulle (yes, really), so my bottom tier was only just over 7.5m but I think that was fine (she recommends 8 yds). The middle tier was the recommended 4m.
3. I skipped all the ribbon and twill tape. I didn't have it and it would have taken so much time to apply. If you were making a petticoat you wanted to wear regularly, I'd recommend it. It does look better, and it would probably make it last longer. But for fancy dress/relatively little wear, I think it's fine without.
4. As mentioned above, I did an elastic waist. Quicker, easier and comfier than hook and eye, although not hugely authentic.

STEP 2 Math(s)
As I'd already made the underskirt, I measured that (61cm) and divided it by 3. I didn't actually make the top tier from tulle. I already had the bulk from the underskirt and didn't want any more, so that acted as my top tier. I made my second tier 20cm and my third 25cm. I  kept the bottom tier longer as, due to time, I knew my cutting and stitching wouldn't be hugely accurate and I wanted to include a margin for error, plus a bit for seam allowance. This meant once the underskirt was finished, I hung it from my wardrobe and just trimmed the bottom tier to the same level as the underskirt. Very lazy, but it worked, because TULLE DOESN'T FRAY!!!

STEP 3 Drawing, gluing and cutting
Pretty much as described but without the Fray Check. I also didn't actually mark the fabric with pencil and instead used pins. I don't recommend this route. Pins fall out of tulle and you get wonky cutting lines. Obviously, as stated above, I didn't cut the top tier.

STEP 4 Sewing and finishing the seams
I didn't finish the seams. No need. I used really small seam allowances too, about 0.5cm. Did I mention tulle doesn't fray?
Because I didn't do the top tier, I missed out the bit referring to the opening at the waist.

STEP 5 Basting and gathering
Do what she says! It might seem insignificant at the time, but when it comes to matching the tiers and gathering, it all makes sense and makes it so much easier. I couldn't do this because I pieced bits of tulle together to get my 8 and 4m lengths which just made things more difficult. More difficult is not a good thing at 11pm when you are tired and emotional.
I sewed 2 rows of basting stitches using a 4.5 stitch length. 3 rows would probably be better, if you can face it.
Tip - if you plan to be thorough about removing your basting stitches once the gathers are sewn in place, it might be an idea to put a different coloured thread in your bobbin, to the top of your machine. Because the tulle is basically net, the threads have a habit of pulling through to one side, making gathering more difficult, as it was harder to identify the bobbin thread. For those of you who haven't gathered before, you want to pull on the thread from the bobbin. If it's a different colour, it will be easier to identify.

STEP 6 Finishing the hem
I skipped this.

STEP 7 Gathering each tier to the next
Do what she says again! I did this, but not having evenly spaced side seams made this more difficult, as mentioned above. I skipped the ribbon. After basting 8m of fabric with 2 rows of stitches I was glad to!
What Sugardale doesn't make clear is, when attaching the bottom to the middle tier, whether to attach right sides together, or to lay the top tier (wrong side down) over the right side of the middle tier. I did the latter, as it seemed the intuitive thing to do.
When it came to stage 6 here, I obviously didn't have the top tier. Instead, on my underskirt, I measured 20cm down from the top of the waistband (that being a third of my total length), marked it and stitched the middle tier onto the underskirt at this point. This would have been easier if I hadn't already put the elastic in.

STEP 8 Finishing the top
If you haven't done so already, now insert your elastic, using the usual safety pin method (or something fancier if you have it).
I skipped the ribbon...

STEP 9 Closures
No need! Hurrah! All done!!! Except for that pesky, lazy hem line trimming bit. But you are a neater marker and cutter than I am, so probably don't need to do this.

STEP 10 Look it over
Ah. Yes. There will be a lot of loose ends. You might want to be thorough about removing your basting stitches, particularly if you've used different colours. I just removed the ones that pulled out easily and cut the ends off the rest - ivory thread on ivory tulle is really difficult to unpick. But also really difficult to see!

As you can tell, Sugardale's skirt is a bit fuller looking than mine. Not sure if that's just because I had a bit less than the full 8yds on the bottom tier, or due to the difference between crinoline or tulle, or maybe the ribbon on the bottom adds some structure? Not sure. If you find out, or think you know, feel free to let me know! Either way, I was quite happy with mine.

I hope this all makes sense. If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch. If you do make this, please let me know how you get on!!!!



  1. Wonderful, thanks! This is really helpful :) And I love that you list all the possible shortcuts for the process! Now I just need a 50s event to go to...

    1. You're welcome! Maybe you'll just have to throw a 50's party yourself...

  2. It looks great, I like the simplicity of your method. I think you have a less full look because tulle goes soft and doesn't have that structured effect. That's probably why people use organza and such over tulle.


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